Testing for driving aptitude? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 12 Old 01-22-2020, 01:47 PM Thread Starter
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Testing for driving aptitude?

So I've been wanting to pursue a bit of pleasure driving with Dreams. I wanted to do this a few years back but a number of other things got in the way, but now that life is starting to level out again I'd like to pursue it further. My first question for all you driving folks out there is how to tell if a horse is going to be good in harness? With Thunder the Shire I just KNEW he was going to be a good driving horse, I never had to ask myself or think about it. Are there any tests you do to see how a horse reacts to any given stimulus? Ideally I'd like to know if Dreams is going to be a good driving candidate before I go out and buy a harness so that I'm not out all the money.

Thus far Dreams has taken to everything I've ever asked of him. He is, in general, calm and quiet. I've yet to see him take off away from a scary object - his usual reaction is to suck back (not step back, just lean) and snort, then cautiously approach and snort some more. He doesn't like road traffic coming at him, so this would definitely be something to work on, though in his defense he's been ridden around road traffic like twice in his life and I've never really trained him at it. It only took 15 minutes to get him over his terror of the roping dummy being dragged by a 4-wheeler last year, so I think if I applied myself and really worked at it he'd be fine.

As far as obstacles go, he's fine. Crosses water, mud, tarps, anything. He's an excellent trail horse, goes anywhere on a loose rein at any speed so no worries there. During Thunder's desensitizing training he was exposed to bullwhips, fireworks and shooting blanks, and while he jumped at the louder ones he didn't run. I haven't done a ton of desensitizing with him though, so I'd need to work on that.

-- Kai
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post #2 of 12 Old 01-22-2020, 01:48 PM
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While it's not scientific, I gauge it by how the horse reacts to spooks. Does he stop and look and then go forward? Good driving candidate. But if he's the spin, bolt, and buck type of spooker, I'd think long and hard about trying to drive him.
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post #3 of 12 Old 01-22-2020, 03:59 PM
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I agree with Silver Maple. Dreams sounds like he'd work well. The better they hand what is going on around them and the less reactive they are then the more likely they will make a good driving horse.
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post #4 of 12 Old 01-22-2020, 06:48 PM
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Another couple tests my sister uses prior to harness and hitch is whether they'll drag something and how well they ground drive. Hitch horses operate on a lot of voice to move out, what speed, turn, stop. Ground driving is where you teach them to listen. If a horse gets nervous pulling a weighted object (logs work) that is behind them where they can't see it, or shy from the pull rope touching their legs, they may not be a good candidate.
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post #5 of 12 Old 01-23-2020, 03:30 AM Thread Starter
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I have dragged a log behind him, dallied to the horn on a number of occasions. It was a possible maneuver in one of our shows and I wanted to make sure he'd do it during the class. The very first time he saw it he gave it the hairy eyeball but he never tried to run or freaked out. Toward the end I was letting it rub on his leg and hip and he was okay with that as well.

I think he'd make a decent pleasure driving horse but his acrobatics in the arena give me pause lol. He's the most athletic horse I've ever met, and watching him cut loose running with his buddies in the arena makes me shiver sometimes. I'm glad he's never offered to do any of that under saddle or I'd be screwed. Leaps, like GIANT leaps five feet or more in the air, spins, extreme bucks with all four legs at least three feet off the ground and then his hind end nearly vertical, big rears again nearly vertical . he jumped a five foot round pen from a standstill as a yearling. That was my first clue I've got a bounder lol. He catches some serious air. I'm absolutely certain the only reason he's still in that arena an hour or two later is because he WANTS to be in there. If he wanted, he could easily jump out, and unlike the rest of the horses around, he knows it.

I suppose none of that is relevant unless he's doing it when I'm with him - which he's not, just when he's running loose playing - but unlike Thunder, who is in general indolent and unruffled, I've seen what Dreams is truly capable of. I don't think Thunder could leap that high if his life depended on it. Dreams does it for an hour or more. But when I'm handling him he's a perfect gentleman, and he's never offered to get crazy under saddle or any other time. And I know that horses hotter than Dreams are driven every day look at those Arabian harness classes! Those things look like they're fed straight rocket fuel. So I'm sure Dreams do it too but I just wonder lol.

-- Kai
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post #6 of 12 Old 01-23-2020, 09:31 AM
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One of my criterion for teaching a horse to drive is if it will stand still quietly for a period of time. The horse has to stand quietly while being harnessed, and then stand again for the handler to go to the cart and get in.

I had a horrific driving accident when my mare decided she had stood long enough, and when I walked back to get in the cart, she took off running. I had a hold of the reins, but not alert enough while getting in to be able to stop her. A car came flying over the hill and hit us, knocked the cart sideways, hit the horse, flipped the cart which trapped me under it as we were galloping down a paved road.

And icing on the cake: I had to pay for the damages to the stupid car because my horse bolted into the road.

This mare did stand quietly as long as I wanted her to--I never would have taught her to drive if she hadn't. We once got into a snowbank (just like the song "Jingle Bells") and flipped the cart, and she stood quietly while we got out of the snow and righted the cart.

But she was a hot and forward mare who liked to go, and that one time was quite bad.
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post #7 of 12 Old 01-23-2020, 03:40 PM Thread Starter
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Oof @knightrider that sounds terrible. Were you and your mare okay? Dreams does stand patiently when asked. I've taught him to ground tie, and he stands tied wherever I put him as well. Also stands for hobbles, picketing, hi lining, etc. He's quite the gentleman around people.

-- Kai
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post #8 of 12 Old 01-24-2020, 01:19 AM
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Calm, quiet, and as close to no spook as possible. Looking is okay. No spin bolters. Must be confident by themselves unless you are driving pairs.
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post #9 of 12 Old 01-24-2020, 11:19 AM
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You don't need to buy the whole nine yards to test out if they could pull a cart or to do most of the training.
A neckrope on a quick release knot, other end in hand, drag poles attached to rope. If he freaks, pull the rope and everything comes away without worry.
You can simulate the breeching & the crupper easily & cheaply with what you already have.
Also, ground drive, a lot!
If he can't figure that out and always stay facing forward/spook in place, you're gonna have a bad time in a cart...
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post #10 of 12 Old 02-07-2020, 12:30 AM Thread Starter
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Okay I think I'm gonna go ahead with training Dreams to drive. We'll see how it goes lol once I get him going I'll put it in my journal. Since all my driving gear went with Thunder to Florida, I'm going to have to get creative for Dreams' driving training.

I horde rope like some sort of nylon-polypropylene-cotton miser, so I made some thin driving lines out of 1/4" braided poly. I figured I'd use that because it was light, and I'll be wearing gloves anyway so I didn't need to use anything nice like cotton that wouldn't burn my hands if he decides to lose his brain at some point. Back spliced a scissor snap on the bit ends (I absolutely LOATHE bit snaps as a general rule, but for this sort of thing they really do come in handy) and I don't have pictures but I thought they turned out nice. Each rein is 24 feet so I may end up cutting them shorter, not sure yet.

I was watching a Barry Hook video and he had a horse that tends to poke his nose out like Dreams does, and he had some simple elastic side reins made up that helped gently teach the horse where to carry his head. I'm not too concerned about head and nose placement at the moment but I had some extra scissor snaps, so I picked up 10 feet of elastic rope at Lowe's and made a pair of side reins. The rope is only about 1/8" in diameter so it's pretty easy to stretch, but I figure if Dreams needs more than that I have enough length to double it and double the force needed to stretch it. I sincerely doubt I'll need more stretch power than single ply though, Dreams has quite a soft mouth. Those side reins won't get used till later, but I figured since I'm furloughed I might as well make them now so I have a pair.

Now I'm trying to decide what to do for the rest. I don't have a surcingle but I figured I could use a saddle for rein rings/attaching poles to drag/hanging noisemakers like milk jugs full of rocks like I did for Thunder, so I'm all good there. I have a breastcollar I can use for actual pulling, if I need that, so good there. I figured I could make breeching and a crupper out of rope? I don't have any cotton, but I do have some very soft 3 strand poly that's 1/2" or 5/8" wide or so. Soft breeching is less important but do you think that would suffice for a crupper? Obviously it'll burn if it gets pulled but it shouldn't be going anywhere so I think that should be soft enough to use under his tail? Dreams has never felt anything down there while he's moving lol so desensitizing to that should be fun.

I'm not going to jury-rig a blind bridle. I figure I'll get him going in an open bridle, and if he can progress through everything I did with Thunder without blinkers, he ought to make a pretty darn good driving horse and I can go out and spend the money on an actual harness at that point. He ought to move through the training fairly quickly teaching him verbal commands should take some time since at this point the only word he understands is 'whoa' but he's reasonably intelligent so I'm not worried there. I'll have to make a point to take him riding downtown so I can desensitize him to vehicles, since he still gets his panties in a bunch when cars are coming at him. But again, it's not his fault, I just haven't made it a priority, so again shouldn't take long. But he's already dragged a log, he's already been through the White Trash Desensitizing Extravaganza, so all the basic stuff should progress fairly quick-like.

Obviously I can make traces/tugs/holdbacks etc. out of rope so no issues with the rest. I'll have to order a singletree once I start work again I always meant to do it when I was driving Thunder but his breeder just let me borrow hers. I won't need that right away but it'll come in handy once I start getting to the good stuff like dragging a tire. I still have my pile of desensitizing garbage tarps, feed bags, bottles filled with rocks, pool noodles, party poppers, fireworks, bags filled with empty soda cans, metal plates to drag on asphalt oh yeah. We gonna have a lot of fun now. : )

-- Kai
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